Adaptations of other materials are difficult to make. Not only for the creative decisions required in adapting someone else’s work into a different medium, but also the behind the scenes aspects of acquiring permissions, legal red tape, and the over all ability to produce a work that is inherently based on someone else’s efforts. This was the case for the second adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel, remade into the Johnny Depp starring, Tim Burton directed ‘Charlie And The Chocolate Factory’.
Behind The Scenes
The film went through lots of issues with not being able to get permission from the estate of the original author, as well as being able to adequately reflect the author’s vision, on film. This was a daunting task, and due to this, the film was in development since 1991, until it was finally made with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp in 2005, successfully to major critical and commercial acclaim. Burton was awarded the opportunity because he was apparently the only director who immediately realized the vision of the author, as explained by his daughter in their first meeting.
Tim Burton, known for his visually unique films and subject matter that varies from the dark, to cheerful, but always of the weird and eccentric standard, brought his trademark quality for ‘Charlie And The Chocolate Factory’. Burton’s vision was only made that much more successful with the addition of long time collaborator Johnny Depp, who brought just as much weird in his portrayal of Willy Wonka.
The story of ‘Charlie And The Chocolate Factory’ is all about a young boy named Charlie (Freddie Highmore), living in poverty with a massive family, getting an opportunity at something, quite literally, fantastical and magical. The boy wins a chance to visit a chocolate factory, owned by eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka. Through the tour of the magical factory, the audience meets the other kids who also won, most of whom come from entitled and well-off backgrounds that make them cruel, selfish, and devoid of the good natured heart that Charlie inherantly has. Through song and dance, and many comical situations, the movie is able to recreate the magic of the original story, while bringing the graphics into the modern age, and carrying the whole thing on the shoulders of Depp and Burton.
The movie works on many levels. It’s essentially a children’s film, that delves into the magically mysterious and fantastical. The adults portrayed in the film are a little over the top, but can be rationalized as being seen as so, if viewed from the perspective of children. That is even more so for the film itself; what may look like it is cheesy, melodramatic and too much from an adult perspective, may be seem completely normal for young children, for whom the film is marketed towards. With that basis, ‘Charlie And the Chocolate’ factory revels in its own story, as Depp gives a performance that is both exaggerrated and nuanced all at the same time.
The titular character of Charlie is played by Freddie Highmore, a young actor with an already impressive filmography by the time this movie was made. Highmore acted alongside Depp in the critically acclaimed ‘Finding Neverland’, and continued on to star in more critical films such as ‘August Rush’. The pairing works for this film, as Highmore’s painfully oblivious innocence and naïveté couples wonderfully with Depp’s twisted and skittish character as the two characters push the story forward in an exciting and interesting manner.
One of the larger freedom of liberties taken with the source material by Burton, was to provide an origin story for Willy Wonka to properly contextualize and give depth to his eccentric behaviour, love for chocolate and apprehension at the concept of ‘parents’. Wonka’s backstory included that of a repressed childhood, devoid of chocolates or sweets, and what he thought was an overbearing amount of control exercised by his dentist father. This is meant to explain why Wonka turned out the way he did, and the scenes are done with mock emotional drama, while resulting in some hilariously meaningful moments. Majority of the movie moves in this manner, of mock serious, idealistically naive and painfully hilarious situations that engage the audience, and keep the story moving at a very brisk pace.
Unlike most other musical films, the songs never take away from the momentum of the film. While most musicals focus on neat and pretty elements of the story, the songs here are used as plot points, where something dramatic happens by the end, thereby keeping interest levels high and audiences on the edge of their seats. Burton elevates the original story of ‘Charlie And the Chocolate Factory’ by not relying on the more outrageous elements of the story, but providing a spotlight into the simpler more character driven plot points. The relationship between Charlie and Wonka remain a highlight of the movie, as the young man teaches the socially awkward chocolatier about compassion, family togetherness and simple acts of kindness towards the others. It’s a great progression for the character of Wonka, and Depp does a great job of visually coming to grips with these emotional concepts that he left behind years ago.
‘Charlie And The Chocolate Factory’, while at times featuring shocking imagery, still works as a great family friendly film, with morals and concepts of kindness and family dynamics at work, conducive to young viewers. Burton, despite being known for his darker and more gothic toned films, lightens everything up for this film, and it works wonderfully.